Colombia's pleas for disaster aid draw worldwide response

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

From around the world, relief aid is pouring in to agencies that are trying to alleviate the suffering of Colombians affected by last week's volcano eruption. Nevado del Ruiz, the volcano that blew late Nov. 13, has left its mark on the country. According to the latest estimates, more than 23,000 people died and nearly 25,000 people were left injured or homeless.

In response to Colombia's plight, relief organizations, fueled by donations from private organizations and governments, are moving in to patch things up as best they can.

The Colombian government has put out a call for picks and shovels, electrical generators, first-aid kits, and mobile hospital units.

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Aid officials caution that people who wish to contribute send cash rather than goods. They warn that the destruction in the stricken areas is so total that transportation of any relief items is difficult and needs to be carefully coordinated. ``We don't want to send them a lot of stuff that is going to clog up their pipeline,'' says one official.

Some aid officials say the response so far rivals that for the Mexico City earthquake. ``There was much more hoopla over Mexico but, so far, we've raised more money for Colombia then we had at the same time after the Mexican earthquake,'' says Edward Marasculo, chief oprating officer of the Pan American Development Foundation, a private aid operation affiliated with the Organization of American States.

Mr. Marasculo says his organization has sent $1.5 million in aid to Mexico so far, and has surplus equipment from such donors as Stanley Tools, and Homelite Company to send to Colombia. In-kind donations of medical supplies and construction equipment are coming in for Colombia, Mr. Marasculo reports, and his group's drive to raise cash was boosted by a $150,000 grant from Occidental Petroleum. He expects his organization to ultimately send more aid to Colombia than it has to Mexico.

``Everyone was up in front of the klieg lights for Mexico,'' Marasculo says, referring to the large number of grass roots aid organizations that sprang up in the wake of Mexico's tragedy. Fewer private organizations are collecting aid for the current disaster, he says, which may partly explain why more money seems to be coming into established groups such as the Pan American Development Foundation.

So far, US government assistance has topped $1 million. US Ambassador to Colombia Charles S. Gillespie Jr. donated an initial $25,000 to Colombian disaster assistance institutions. The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the US Agency for International Development (AID) followed up by sending a United States Geological Survey scientist, an AID disaster-relief expert, and 12 helicopters, with support and medical personnel, from Panama. The US has since sent other aircraft, in addition to more prosai c items such as 500 tents, 2,250 blankets, and a few tent repair kits.

At least 25 other nations are involved in aid efforts as well. Ecuador has supplied a mobile hospital. Iceland's Red Cross sent a cash donation of $4,650. The French government is sending medical supplies and 1,300 tents. Japan has so far sent the most money: In addition to dispatching eight doctors, nurses, and engineers to the site, the country has donated $1.25 million to Colombia and $50,000 to the UN for relief efforts.

Among at least two dozen or so groups accepting contributions are:

UN Disaster Relief Organization, Liaison Office, Room S-293, United Nations, NY 10017. Mark checks ``Colombia relief''; Pan American Development Foundation, 1889 F Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. Mark checks ``Colombia relief effort''; CARE, 660 First Avenue, New York, NY 10016. Mark checks ``Colombia disaster fund''; US Committee for UNICEF, Colombian Emergency Fund, 331 East 38th St. New York, NY. 10016. Mark checks ``Colombian relief UNICEF''; Colombian Government, Chemical Bank, 337 Madison Ave nue, New York, Ny. 10017. Mark checks ``Damnificados Colombia.''

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